New rules will also include resources to help restaurants better navigate the inspection process

CITY HALL –City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Health Department announced today they are releasing for public comment new restaurant grading rules designed to reduce fines and provide additional educational resources to help restaurants maintain their high health standards and succeed throughout New York City. In the last fiscal year, fines collected fell 23 percent from its peak in fiscal year 2012. Under the new rules, which include fixed penalties, restaurants will see a further reduction of 25 percent in fines, returning to pre-grading levels despite more frequent inspections. Restaurant owners will also have the opportunity to request a consultative, ungraded and penalty-free inspection to receive tailored advice about maintaining the best food safety practices at their establishment. This will help restaurants prepare for their next inspection and give them the information and tools to improve their chances to earn an A. Speaker Mark-Viverito and Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett were joined by Council Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson, Small Business Committee Chair Robert Cornegy, Council Member Vincent J. Gentile and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer for the announcement.

“The City Council has worked extensively to reform New York City’s restaurant grading system,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “These new rules will provide much needed fine relief to the City’s restaurants and will strike a balance between fairness to restaurants and upholding safety standards, and I thank the de Blasio Administration for working with the Council on this important issue.”

“The de Blasio administration is committed to care for the health of all New Yorkers and the success of our businesses. These important steps will help restaurant businesses succeed by expanding the City’s efforts to educate and work collaboratively with them to comply with our rigorous health code, making the process more consultative and less onerous. I commend the City Council for their leadership and look forward to working with them as we begin to implement the new inspection and fine protocols,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.

“Restaurant letter grading began as a way to motivate restaurants to practice better food safety and allow the public to make more informed decisions about where to safely dine,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. “And the program is working. Over 90 percent of New Yorkers approve of letter grading, and as restaurant performance has improved, reported cases of Salmonella in New York City have decreased 14 percent compared to the rest of the state. We are pleased to have worked with the City Council to build on the success we’ve already seen so diners can feel even more confident that restaurants are practicing good food hygiene.”

“I commend DOHMH for acting expeditiously to release these rules to accomplish the Council’s goal of ensuring that our city’s sanitary inspection program protects the public’s health without unfairly or arbitrarily burdening restaurant operators with fines,” said Small Business Committee Chair Council Member Robert Cornegy. “In every way it can, our city must adjust its regulatory programs to support small business success and this action is an important example of that commitment.”

In addition to the reduced fines and penalty-free inspections, the collaboration between the City Council and the Health Department will make the entire inspection process more transparent and inclusive of small business owners.

The City Council has worked extensively to reform the City’s restaurant grading system. In October, following comprehensive forums, hearings, and a citywide restaurant inspection survey conducted by the Council, the Council passed a sweeping legislative package to improve the oversight and the performance of the restaurant inspection system.

The legislation established a new position of ombudsperson in the Office of Food Safety to respond to restaurant complaints, and expanded the Department’s food safety advisory committee, which includes nutritionists, food safety experts, and representatives from the restaurant industry. This committee will provide an ongoing review of the letter grading program.

“The city’s restaurant letter grading system is an important public health tool,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Council Committee on Health. “Allowing New Yorkers to make informed dining decisions is important, but the letter grading should not be an impediment for restaurants being able to do business in the city. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) must ensure consistency and predictably toward food establishments, especially small businesses, when inspections take place. Working with DOHMH, the City Council helped to provide greater fairness and reduce fines for restaurant owners while ensuring the health and well-being of New Yorkers.”

“After New York City’s small businesses spoke loud and clear about their issues with the restaurant inspection process the City Council moved swiftly to address their concerns,” said New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, whose legislation now allows restaurants the ability to request a consultative, ungraded and penalty-free inspection. “By working closely with the Department of Health we were able to reinvent the restaurant inspection process and make it more transparent. Together we will help maintain the bottom lines of our City’s restaurants to ensure they continue to succeed. I am proud to have worked with Speaker Mark-Viverito and my colleagues to enhance our landmark restaurant inspection reforms which will continue to save small business owners millions in unnecessary fines.”

“These reforms will help make the grading system less adversarial, more cooperative, more educational and more transparent,” said Council Member Vincent J. Gentile. “We must never forget that small businesses are the backbone of our economy – and in order to help these businesses grow and succeed, inspectors must work with restaurant owners rather than attempt to catch them off guard and penalize them.”

“I am proud to be part of the effort to bring the focus back to food safety with these reforms,” said Council Member David Greenfield. “My thanks to Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito and all of my colleagues who played a role in this process, and to all of the outstanding restaurant operators who are such an important part of our city.”

The Health Department also announced the implementation of two other changes negotiated with the Council. Restaurants whose scores become less than 14 points after adjudication on its initial inspection will not have to pay any fines for the remaining sanitary violations on that inspection. Additionally, the Health Department will not issue a violation for a structural problem if prior inspections failed to notice it and conditions have not been changed, though the restaurant will still be required to fix it.

Launched in July of 2010, the Health Department began requiring restaurants in all five boroughs to post letter grades to help achieve three goals: to inform the public about a restaurant’s inspection results in a simple, accessible way; to improve sanitary conditions and food safety practices in restaurants; and to reduce illnesses associated with dining out.

Today, 88 percent of restaurants in New York City post an A grade, while the number of restaurants with B and C grades has dropped significantly, with just 10 percent of restaurants posting a B and 2 percent posting a C. Every restaurant is afforded two opportunities to earn an A grade, and among restaurants that score in the B range on their initial inspection, 50 percent earn an A upon re-inspection, up from 38 percent in the first year of letter grading.

Restaurants have also received fewer violations in some of the most important food safety areas. There has been a decrease in the percent of restaurants cited for evidence of mice, and other critical violations, such as inadequate hand washing facilities, foods being kept at the wrong temperature, and inadequate worker hygiene, have also declined. Altogether, the increase in A grades and decrease in violations has allowed 34 percent of restaurants to avoid paying any fines in fiscal year 2013.

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